Welcome to Putlandia, where the president and prime minister swap jobs at will, where the constitution is an empty shell and all power rests with Vladimir Putin. The deal between him and President Dmitry Medvedev is a farce.
But in recent years, Russia's form of government has undergone creeping change, without any revisions to the constitution. When Medvedev moved into the Kremlin four years ago, most of the power moved out with Putin to the White House on the Moskva River, to the seat of the Russian government.
In the new Russia, it doesn't matter what powers the constitution formally assigns to the president and the prime minister. It all depends on where Vladimir Putin is. He is the state.
Next May, Russia will once again change its form of government, overnight, when Putin becomes president for his third term and returns to the Kremlin to re-establish his old power base. Medvedev will be demoted from head of government to a subordinate.
Putin's high popularity will assure him of a clear victory in the election. Where necessary, obliging governors and election officials will help out. The Russian people have effectively given Putin full power of attorney, grateful that he has given the country a degree of stability.
Putin's popularity is fed by the prosperity that raw materials exports have bestowed on the country, and by the nation's collective memory of the turmoil of the 1990s. Oil and gas will continue to flow, albeit a little less strongly, and the memories are fading only slowly. There will be no quick changes in Russia.
"We stopped the country from disintegrating," Putin confidant Boris Gryzlov called out to delegates at the party congress. "Powerlessness is a lethal danger for Russia." Putin and his men proudly declare that they have returned the Russian state to strength.
In truth, they have hijacked it. Russia's constitution is little more than an empty shell that does a poor job of concealing the neo-feudal regime of Prince Putin. The democratic institutions may have been weak and flawed at the end of the 1990s, but Putin has robbed them of their functions altogether. He has subjected parliaments, judges and even the office of president to his will. A separation of powers no longer exists.
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Excellent analysis, but Bidder does not quite seem to understand the future problems for Russia´s gas and oil exports. Thanks to the shale gas and LNG revolutions, Russian energy exports are bound to decrease faster than most people realize. When the money flow slows down, Putin´s popularity will quickly disappear, and people are going to blame him for squandering the country´s wealth.